Danny Wolfers, aka LEGOWELT, has been releasing his own brand of electronica for nearly a decade now, and his uniquely analogue sound has brought him plaudits galore and releases on some of the biggest European techno labels too. After his blistering live set at this summer's Robot Disco Terror party in Glasgow, I was lucky enough to get a chance to pick the brain of this mysterious man...
What does Legowelt mean?
It means “World of Lego”.
Is it the translation for Legoland?
No, it’s Lego world. That is like a land, this is a world, you know? In theory it doesn’t have anything to do with Lego blocks, with the toy. More like the music, to play with the blocks of music, or something like that!
How did you get into making music?
When I was like 12 or something I got a synthesizer, and I just wanted to make music to the records I bought. It seemed pretty easy at first, I thought.
What were the records you were listening to, and when was this?
In like 1992 or 1993. Well, there was like Chicago, acid, and just generally house and techno. It was becoming famous then because they played it on the radio here in the early Nineties. Stuff from Detroit, slowly those records were coming here, like the second Detroit wave of… something!
What were your favourite records from that period?
Ah… well… there were quite a lot, I think Underground Resistance “Final Frontier” No.3 and what else… like Farley Jackmaster Funk stuff, and also stuff from the Hague that was being released for the first time, like Unit Moebius, and Utrechts, there was a Dutch label from Utrecht, which has been defunct for years, but it was a nice label with Random Access and the Connection Machine, and all kinds of good stuff released on there.
So when did you first have your music released?
Oh, well that would be in 1998, something like that. Well, I did a cassette in like 1996 or something, cos we still had cassettes, you could release those. But my first vinyl 12” was in 1998. And my first CD release was also 1998. That was “Reports from the Back Seat Men” which was also re-released on vinyl in 2002 or 2003. That was on Bunker Records from the Hague.
How did you meet up with them?
Well, because I was living in the same city and stuff, I sent them a demo tape, and it was the time of Unit Moebius and all this, and we saw each other at parties and it just happened…
Did you put the cassette out yourself?
Yes, I just dub copied the cassettes, it was a common thing to do back then.
How many did you sell?
Yeeeah, I dunno… couple of hundred or something?
That’s not bad!
No, no definitely not, but over a long time span probably, back then. It was called “Space Force”.
And have you seen any of them on Ebay since, maybe going for a lot of money?
No, well, I dunno, I never check that stuff, I don’t have Ebay myself so I don’t know what’s going on there. So I guess that if somebody has it wants to sell it it can be there, but I dunno…
You don’t seem to care that much.
Well, yeah, I don’t have to buy my own releases of course because I already have them. And I don’t like buying stuff on Ebay, because, well, I just don’t like it. They have to send it from outside the country and it’s always a hassle for me.
How did you get your particular sound?
Well, through many different influences, it’s kind of a journey you take or something, you start to listen to other music and that’s what your influences are, but I started with the base of old techno and house, mainly from the US of course, from Detroit and Chicago, and they were influenced by disco and Italo and electronic music too. But I didn’t know that music too well yet when I started listening to them. There were DJs here like I-F that would play that other stuff, and there were other people who had other records and you listen to it and you think “Oh yeah, I’m gonna try that”.
So do you think disco and Italo has been a big influence on you?
Hmmm…I guess so… I dunno! My records are always more like Chicago techno. As for Italo I don’t think as much as people, especially the press, say sometimes, especially when they don’t know something. Like for example something I really hate is when I have a new record out and it’s in an internet shop or something, and it has a review and it says “Classic Italo Disco sound” or something, when it’s like a total Drexciya style electro record. Sometimes people don’t listen, or they don’t know, or they don’t care, I dunno! Ha… I just wanted to say that!
And what about electro?
Also a lot I think, but it’s difficult to say how much, because it comes from all kinds of little music styles, you know. But electro has always been very big here in the Hague. I think especially in the mid-Nineties, electro was bigger than Italo disco, because here in the Hague it’s very tightly connected, everything. So yeah, electro was a big influence then.
What about clubs in the Hague – did you go out much?
Yeah there were always parties and stuff. I didn’t go out that much here cos it’s pretty rough, but there was always a party or something, and that’s where you saw people like I-F play all different types of records and B-sides I liked. And that was nice, but the whole thing wasn’t really about “clubbing”.
You’ve been playing a lot live, but first I’ll start by asking what do you use when you play a live set?
I use a lot of modern cheap equipment, like quite cheap stuff from the big brands, and old drum machines and stuff. Mostly stuff that is expendable and cheap, because it has to go on the road and it always breaks down and things. Stuff that is quite easy to play on, like Roland PR707 and several Yamaha sequencers, like the little grey one, the QY7P and lots of drum machines. It all depends on where I am playing, and if I can bring some stuff in a car like synthesizers, but mostly it’s cheap modern groove boxes.
How is that different to what you have in your studio?
Well mostly in my studio I work with synthesizers which are quite old and would probably break down if you moved them a few centimeters, so that’s the difference. When I play live it’s more because I play in clubs where people dance, to dance music, and that’s why I’m there, to make people dance, and that’s my mission. You can play soundtrack stuff in a club at 3am, but you ain’t gonna get booked anymore!
So how is the touring going?
I’ve just come back form a tour of America, last week. It was really nice, we played in Philadelphia, New York, Detroit, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Chicago. They like it very much, the freaks that come to see it, you know, there’s a small freak scene everywhere that likes the sound, and they go crazy!
How have you been finding playing in Europe?
That’s nice too, it depends a bit on what country and stuff…
Which would be your favourite?
Um, that difficult… I like Sweden always, especially Ireland and Scotland are good, and ooh… of course Holland is nice to play. You know in a certain country there can be a good party and there can be a bad party. So I’m always careful to say which countries are good, because it can always be different.
Any bad ones you stay away from?
Hmm… No! Haha, you know I don’t have that particular bad country. Belarus maybe. I’ve never been there, but it’s a dictatorship.
You’re running your own record label Strange Life at the moment, how is it going?
Yeah, it’s going pretty well, it’s quite unknown to the public but there have been eight releases so far, and there’s one coming out within 2 weeks, I hope. It’s a CD album of electronic music from the Eighties made by a Dutch guy that has never been released before. But it sounds very interesting, like a cross between Vangelis and old electronic minimal wave and YMO and things like that, but very raw production and recording. It’s called SCD, and the title will be “Songs from 1981 to 1987”. That’s gonna be a CD with 20 tracks.
What’s the difference between stuff you do for Strange Life and for Bunker?
Well, I wouldn’t make the distinction with Bunker. But it is more experimental maybe, so some of the 12”s I am releasing on my own label are not experimental at all, but the CDs I put out are more like soundtrack, ambient tracks, and you know there are not that many labels that would take the risk of releasing that stuff. I also do it on CD because it is really listening music for the living room or the car, you know? So the 12”s, that’s more what DJs can play in the club, like a bit Chicago house style, or Drexciyan Detroit techno, stuff like that.
What other names do you record under?
There’s Smackos which is the soundtrack shit I put out on my own label, there was Quatro Blanco, which is more like a modern music style, and there’s Solomonbos, which is Chicago house style, and there’s Gladio, which is Roman Empire techno, -
There’s quite a lot!
Yeah, there is!
And how do you decide on different projects and different names?
That is just a concept you will know, you know? And also different machines are used for different styles, so for Smackos it’s pretty easy to hear the difference, and that’s recorded without Midi, without computers. You just do it with mutli track tape, and played live using arpeggios and sequencers and stuff. Legowelt is recorded behind a massive 32 track desk, with drum machines ready and stuff, and then Polarius is just a drum machine with a little sampler.
What would your main soundtrack influences be?
Of course there’s John Carpenter, and a Dutch guy called Dick Maas who made some really good soundtracks. And then there’s Tangerine Dream, and Angelo Badalamenti… But especially John Carpenter. But also I was very influenced by a CD from England from a couple of years ago, that was by the Future, and it was old Human League tracks. It was called “the Golden Hour of the Future”, and that is one of my favourite CDs ever because it is really raw. When I hear that I think that is how electronic music should sound. The tracks on there are amazing!
Any particular films?
Yeah, John Carpenter of course, all of them, but before the Nineties though.
Even the really rock stuff, like Big Trouble in Little China?
Yeeeah… that’s just a good movie, I wouldn’t say the soundtrack is that great! Then there are the Italian movies. Of course, the Italian soundtrack guys I forgot to say like Fabbio Frizzi, Goblin, stuff like that, Claudio Simonettit, I like that too.
I heard you have done a soundtrack. Can you tell me about it??
It was a small film by two girl directors here in the Hague, and they made a little movie about the bear that escaped form the zoo in the Eighties in the Cold War. The Bear tries to contact some spy… It’s a very atmospheric movie and I made the soundtrack for that, it’s called “Elephanten Boots”. I don’t think you can buy it but it was in the Rotterdam film festival last year and this year. But they haven’t put it out on DVD. You can’t buy the soundtrack either. Maybe I will release it on my own label, yeah maybe that’s a good thing to do actually!
How is the scene in the Hague?
Yeah, it’s very quiet and nice. I dunno how it is really! I’d rather sit at home and watch TV or something. There’s sometimes a bar or a place I like though, we have one here called Zahara, which is quite close, and every Sunday there’s DJs from the Cybernetic Broadcasting System, so I go there sometimes.
Do you listen to much modern music?
Modern music… yeah… maybe some ambient, but I don’t know much about it. I’ve bought some Detroit records I like, and some stuff coming in from Chicago right now, like Jamal Moss, it’s ok, and James T Cotton. There some nice stuff everywhere, I can’t say I really like something just because it’s new.
OK. what about stuff you really dislike?
Yeah, well, that’s most of the music I hear in clubs, frankly. I can say that, yeah. It’s like that because most of the stuff that’s played in clubs is uninspired bullshit, you know? Fantasy less crap, and that’s especially with what they call techno today or what they call house or whatever, seldomly I hear a good track. When I was in the US there’s a DJ called DJ Traxx and he’s the best DJ in the world, nobody can play like him, nobody has the records he plays. And when you see that you know what the fuck is going on in other clubs in Europe. They don’t know shit, it’s about nothing when you hear that guy play. Every time he plays people are cheering all the time can going crazy and he mixes like three records for ten minutes with crazy melodies, and then when I am back in some club in Europe they play some stupid minimal record by some idiot producer that earns, I dunno 20,000 Euros! I’ve heard a record from Germany that was, I won’t name it, but it was a pretty big hit in the minimal scene, that was just a preset, a preset from the Korg Electribe machine! He recorded the preset pattern, and you’re allowed to do that, but he said “yeah that’s my track”, and the whole four bar melody was from the preset pattern!
So what are your plans for the rest of the year?
Yeah, well I’m always playing most of the time. Tommorrow I go to Dublin, it’s always nice. It’s for Simon Conway, he runs a shop there called Selectah, he’s a nice guy. On Friday I do the soundtrack thing with the girls who made the film, in a museum in Utrecht. I do it live with the synthesizers, it’s only for half an hour. And on Saturday we do a CBS party with I-F, DJ Overdose, Electrognome, and I do the soundtrack stuff there too.
Hmm, have you been doing the soundtrack/live thing much?
No, it’s just a coincidence that it’s two times in one week! I don’t do it that much.